Feb 072014
 

Leica M cameras are reknowned for their great full-frame performance coupled with the pure luxury feeling using precision tools for advanced manual photography. Prior to the new Sony Alpha A7/A7r the Leica M happened to be the smallest full-frame system camera in the market. Featuring comparatively small sized manual lenses does indeed make a luxury package Leica kit possible that fits into a medium size bag, but small does not necessarily mean compact.

There is one lens however, that can make this dream come true – a vintage collapsible Leica (or rather Leitz) lens that still is readily available on the secondary market. It can can be found for as little as 100-300 $/€ depending on the condition it is in. Very often you can still find almost mint copies that have not been used for ages.

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The Leica Elmar f/3.5 50mm (officially it says f = 5cm on the lens but I will refer to it as the more commonly used 50mm) has quite a simple mechanical and optical design, but one that changed the face of 35mm photography when it was introduced in 1930 (screw mount version). Some years earlier its predecessor had already proven outstanding results on the first ever 35mm fixed lens camera (the famous Ur-Leica or Leica I as it was called later). When this non-removable lens was made available for an interchangeable Leica lens system, 35mm photography as we know it today was born. This makes this a very special lens indeed. And it can still be very special in our times – used wisely on a digital Leica M.

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All you need is a comparatively cheap adapter that turns the screw mount into an M-mount and you are ready to go. I use a Pixco M39 adapter (you can find more about that accessory here). From 1954 on this lens was also produced with an M mount (which eliminates the need for an adapter).

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Disclaimer/warning: Be careful when you put the adapted lens on your prestine Leica M camera. Leica themselves state, the collapsible lens design is incompatible with the current camera models and I have heard some people complain they did damage to their equipment using the Elmar. I did not encounter any problems myself – but I will not take responsibility for any damages. You will have to try adapting this lens to your equipment at your own risk. If you want to make sure there will be no problems with the camera in question, only mount the lens when it is fully extended (i.e. not in its collapsed state). Once mounted there should be enough room for the lens to extend within the camera body – but again, all of this is at your own risk. For my part, I did not have any problems with the adapter used, but of course there may be camera/lens/adapter combinations that do not work as flawlessly. So be careful if you want to try this with your very own digital M. 

Having tried this myself, I can say that in my view the Leica Elmar f/3.5 50mm works well with any Leica M camera ever made including the digital Leica M9, Leica M9P, Leica ME, Leica M Typ 240. The results are quite outstanding, especially considering the age, the simple lens setup and of course the incredibly compact size when collapsed. I got my copy via eBay, it was made in the 1940`s and is in a very nice condition.

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It is not the fastest of all standard lenses (only f3.5) but you get a whole lot of a lens apart from that. The Leica Elmar f/3.5 50mm is quite sharp,  colours are awesome and there is practically no distortion or colour fringing worth mentioning either. The bokeh is quite nice too. Handling is fine by my standards. A small focus knob can easily be turned to enable precise focussing. Best of all, with this lens there is no finder blockage. The only caveats: the aperture is set on a ring on the inside of the front of the lens. This is quite awkward but you can get used to it. Using the new M you will have to rely on the rangefinder. The lens does not allow for live view focussing. Shooting in bright light without a sunshade can cause a little lack of contrast (as can be seen in one of the examples below). But this can easily be compensated for (and if you prefer black and white this is quite negligable).

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This lens is so tiny, there is no need to pick up your other compact camera any more. With the lens attached and collapsed, you can easily slip your Leica M in your coat pocket. Why not try one? This combination is almost as compact as my Fujifilm X-E1 with the Fujinon XF 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens mounted but with the added benefit of full-frame. You can`t do that with a Sony full-frame either…not yet anyway 🙂 .

Need some examples? Here are some basic raw shots (no photo editing tools applied except for conversion from dng to jpg) with the M 240 and the Leica Elmar f/3.5 50mm. You can find some more pics shot (not by me) with this lens over at pixel-peeper. Just follow this link.

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Nov 262013
 

The Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH just happens to be my favorite wide-angle lens. Actually, this is probably the best wide lens I have ever used.

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IMHO nothing can compare to what can be achieved using this lens on a digital Leica. I had loads of fun putting the little gem to use with my Leica M9 and Leica M Typ 240. The results were nothing short of spectacular. 

I was pretty happy when I heard Sony was introducing a full-frame mirrorless ILC (camera with interchangeable lenses) which would let me mount my Leica M lenses using commonly available adapters. But would the results be adequate? Previous tests with the Sony NEX 7 did not work out the way most people thought, so there was always room for doubt. Using ultra-wideangle lenses might prove a problem – or maybe not.

 

Image: Sony Corp.

Image: Sony Corp. / Sony A7R with Carl Zeiss Sonnar FE 35mm f/2.8

 

Some early adopters and professional reviewers have already had the chance to try the new Sony Alpha A7 and Sony Alpha A7R and have posted first look (p)reviews. Some have been full of praise, especially in combination with the new Carl Zeiss Sonnar FE 35mm f/2.8 prime lens (as depicted above). Others have more than hinted there might be color shift and other complications using legacy lenses.

I was hoping I would be able to keep on using my Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH with the new Sony, so I had to give this combination a go myself. My local dealer finally gave me a call saying he had the new Sony body in shop and I was able to take a look at the offer. Unfortunately there was little time and I was only able to take a few quick snaps. Only JPG using Auto ISO and standard camera settings straight out of the box. Nothing professional, i.e. only some basic shots without interest in art or composition 🙂 .
I actually chose a quite demanding city setting simply to push the new Sony with the UWA Leica lens to its limits. I used f5.6, aperture priority, Auto ISO and OOC JPG straight out of the camera. No compensation for shadows and no post processing applied (except for change in file size and e.g. blanking out faces for use of the images in this blog). But see for yourself.

 

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These first snaps may not be a professional test under ideal conditions and the results may be somewhat limited. I simply did not have enough time for anything more. And I guess the resulting pictures (with bad light, out of box camera settings and not using RAW format) are quite o.K. – sort of…

I do not see myself as a pixel peeper. But these quick snaps with the Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH on the Sony Alpha A7 did not really get me overly excited. I had high hopes for this lens combo. Some minor color shift, vignetting and distortion at the edges may be manageable in post processing. But do I really want to go to all the trouble? Do I want to spend hours manipulating files in Photoshop or Lightroom? Not really.

There may be cause for hope. The Sony Alpha A7R with its offset microlens design might be able to handle Leica UWA lenses better than the Sony Alpha A7. But that remains to be seen. Due to the higher pixel count (36mp compared to 24mp) the results might be even more disillusioning. Native lenses for the new Sony Alpha full-frame  system will probably be the best bet. But there are only few to choose from right now. The Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 and the Sony 28-70 kit zoom are available right from the start but no UWA will be available for some time to come. The Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH I was hoping to use with a Novoflex adapter does not seem to be an ideal stand-by player. I will probably wait on the sideline until there are more lenses to choose from.

The camera itself was a pleasure to handle. Just as pleasing as the Sony RX1 which I used quite extensively in the past few months. But I am just not quite willing to sell off any other camera in favor of this machine. The Sony sure is a great piece of equipment. But the glass is what really makes a system stand out and there simply is not enough to choose from right now. Adapting Sony A-lenses may be good for photographers with existing Sony equipment but adapting legacy lenses may prove to be more restricting – not only considering the lack of Auto Focus. I did not like the focus peeking on the Sony Alpha A7 too much. I just could not see it well enough (at least not with standard settings using red highlighting color). Split screen focussing or rangefinder focussing in general seems a lot easier to handle.

Nonetheless this full-frame camera offering is quite outstanding and will probably frighten the competition to death. In time no doubt this will develop into a killer system. Some more full-frame lenses is all it will take to push me over.

Jun 052013
 

Lupico_130604__DSF2364-3“Perhaps the most versatile M lens.“ This is a quote straight from the Leica site. And that about sums it up. The Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE was designed to be even “more compact” with even “higher performance” than its predecessor, which did not feature the floating element and was available from 1994 to 2010.

I have not yet had the opportunity to try the previous model but I have had the newer version on loan from Leica for a couple of weeks and want to share some of my findings.

For the past few years I have been using the Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH with my M9 and only recently with the Leica M Typ 240. I was always glad to strap on the Cron, really appreciating the contrasty, sharp and overall nice results that lens could achieve. I did not think I would ever need f/1.4 on a moderate wide-angle at all. I usually do not tend to shoot too much in extemely low light and could not care less for more shallow depth of field with this focal length. That is what I thought…

But now, after trying the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE on the new M, I am almost tempted to spend some extra cash and trade in the trusted Summicron. The new Summilux is simply amazing and I had great fun putting it to use in the little time I had with it. Trouble was, the weather happened to be so appalling most of the time, I hardly had any opportunity to shoot it in good daylight – most of the time it was overcast and either pouring cats & dogs or drizzling with temperatures closer to winter rather than late spring. Good thing I had f/1.4 after all 😉 .

Basic Lens Specifications

Lupico_130529_PDF Leica 1 35 Lux

More details on this lens including a PDF with all the relevant technical data following this link to Leica Camera AG


Build Quality and Ergonomics

This is what Leica lenses in general excel at and this Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE certainly is no exception. The lens feels just right, with nice weight and size and that unique precision tool feeling you can only get from Leica products. It has great ergonomics right down to the all-metal hood that can be screwed on and off with ease. This hood is the same as used with the Leica M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH, which happens to be my all time favorite super-wide. Look out for a review on that lens soon.

The older version of the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH as well as the newest Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH do not have this special screw-on hood. They both only feature a plastic clip-on version which makes the handling a little less fun. They also have strange wishy-washy lens caps or rather slack push-on covers whereas the new Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE has a very much nicer slip-on kind of cap – albeit still made of cheap rubber.

I have found myself cursing the clumsy Summicron clip-on hood solution and fiddly rubber cover more than a few times. After loosing the first one or two caps you can get quite annoyed. They cost around €25 or $35 which is a lot for such a simple thing (probably not even a dime in production). But that is not a problem to be discussed with the new Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE.

Leica Summilux-M 1.4 ASPH FLE with hood and cap

Leica Summilux-M 1.4 ASPH FLE with metal hood and rubber cap

Summicron-M f/2 ASPH with hood and cap

Leica Summicron-M f/2 ASPH with plastic hood and rubber cap

Only a very small part of the rangefinder viewing window is obstructed by the lens with the hood mounted. The cut-out on the upper left of the hood is sufficient for precise framing. If you leave the hood off and put on the supplied special metal screw-on protection ring (that is supposed to protect the male thread for the lens hood), you can even use the also supplied E46 lens cap instead. This way there will be no finder blockage whatsoever.

Did I mention this lens is really quite small? Just look at the comparison with the latest version of the Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH below. There is not too much of a difference. The Summicron is only 11.5mm smaller to be precise (compared without hoods). This does not really make any difference in actual use.

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I even found the Lux to be a little easier to handle due to its slightly bigger size. The focus ring is a lot stiffer than on my 35mm Cron. Some might prefer a buttery smooth focus ring though. The new Lux has a nicely engraved DOF (depth of field) scale which may come in handy for zone focusing. The half stop detents for adjusting the f-stops feel like they are oozing quality as well.

The previous version of the Summilux was said to have the tendency to focus shift. The new FLE version seems to have this problem sorted out. At least my copy did not show any shift whatsoever. All in all there is absolutely nothing to complain about when it comes to build quality and ergonomics with this very special lens.


Image Quality

In one word: superb. My Summicron may be a great lens but this 35mm Lux ups the ante. Colors look vibrant, contrast is perfect in my view and the lens is bitingly sharp from edge to edge. You can check for differences in sharpness in comparison with the latest Summicron looking at the images below (click file for large view). You will see the Lux is quite the better (especially when comparing corners) but not overwhelmingly so. I did the comparison using one and the same camera mounted on a tripod changing lenses within minutes (repeating the procedure a couple of times to be sure everything was set identical including the point of focus in the centre of the frame). This naturally does not take into account possible sample variations that might occur when testing several copies of each lens, nor was this done in a sterile laboratory environment.

Leica Summicron-M ASPH @ f/2 (OOC RAW to JPG / no changes to original file)

Leica Summicron-M ASPH @ f/2 (OOC RAW to JPG / no changes to original file)

Leica Summilux-M ASPH FLE @ f/2 (OOC RAW to JPG / no changes to original file)

Leica Summilux-M ASPH FLE @ f/2 (OOC RAW to JPG / no changes to original file)

It would not be fair to do too much of a comparison between a Summicron and a Summilux. They serve different photographic needs and the Lux is almost twice the price. I just wanted to show in real life, there is quite a difference – but the Cron is no deadbeat either.

Back to the Lux: even wide open this lens performs tremendously. I could hardly see any differences going from f1.4 to f2.0 and even above that differences in image quality are only marginal – except for when looking at DOF (depth of field) of course.

And DOF is something I want to discuss a little further. It is a widespread belief, that wide-angle lenses cannot really put anything much out of focus even when used wide open and the results then would look quite mediocre. This may be true to some extent. But with the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE you can get quite nice results. Shot at f/1.4 this lens can show a good smooth and shallow depth of field and give a nice enough bokeh. For portraits or subjects where bokeh is of higher significance, I would still prefer the rendering of the Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4 ASPH though. Below are some examples shot with the 35 Lux @ f/1.4. Please keep in mind, these are not meant to have any artistic value and are just to show what f/1.4 can be like with this lens in different shooting situations. Images have not been tweaked in post at all (OOC DNG converted to JPG via LR 4.4).

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Searching my files I could not find any that showed substantial chromatic aberration (CA). It seems to be no great issue with this lens. Vignetting is the only thing that might make you think twice about using the widest aperture. It can be quite pronounced – at least on the Leica M Typ 240. In some situations it might be wiser to stop down a bit – unless you like to add some darker boundaries to your images (e.g. when shooting portraits).

Other than that this lens is great fun to use under almost any conditions. The lens shows little tendency to flare and after using it with the M Typ 240, I was very impressed with the dynamic range. There are some general sample images below with slight editing applied in LR 4.4 and Silver Efex Pro II (for B&W). Again no artsy aspirations.

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Price

Ouch! That`s the part where anyone in a solid state of mind would have to start flinching. € 4.200 or about $ 5.150 is way more than most people would want to spend for a single lens. Even for a Leica this is big money.

But consider this: if you were to choose this beauty of a lens to make up a single lens kit alongside the Leica M camera of your choice, you might not need any other lens – ever again.

Of course, if you are a 50mm kind of guy you would probably rather have a Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH (or maybe even a Noctilux or the new crazy expensive Leica APO-Summicron-M 50 f/2 ASPH) to serve as your standard lens. And many of us frequently like to swap focal lengths anyway.


Is it worth it?

For every photographer who appreciates the field of view 35mm lenses offer – it simply cannot get any better than this for full-frame digital or analog 35mm photography. IMO the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE is worth every cent. But if you can live with a very slight difference in image quality and do not need a faster aperture, the latest 35mm Summicron still is a great choice. This is why I can only give the Lux three stars out of five for price (i.e. value for money). Your mileage may vary on this though.

I currently own the Leica Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH but I would not mind keeping the Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH FLE for myself. Pity I have to return it to Leica. At least now I know what I am missing…

 

Lupico`s Take

Build Quality/Ergonomics ★★★★★
Image Quality ★★★★★
Price ★★★☆☆
Recommendation ★★★★

 

 

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